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General Education Task Force Takes Aim at Revamping Core

Curriculum

BY JASON LAURITZEN

A movement for change in the way students are educated is beginning to take shape at
Appalachian State University and it is being led by a group of students, faculty and staff. The
movement is the General Education Task Force.

The General Education Task Force has been charged with a difficult task: Developing a signature
general education program for undergraduates.

Most Appalachian students are exposed to a general education program through the core
curriculum or “Appalachian’s General Course of Study” which they are required to complete.

The core curriculum is comprised of six hours of English, 12 hours in the humanities, 12 hours in
the social sciences, eight hours of biological or physical science with a lab, four hours of
mathematics and two hours of physical education.

Students encounter the core curriculum check sheet the first time they see their advisor and it can
be a confusing experience.

“It’s a big menu of courses,” said Dr. Paul Gates, assistant professor of communication at
Appalachian and a member on the General Education Task Force.

Menus are about choice and combinations, but Gates said there are so many different
combinations of unrelated courses available that there is no common experience. Instead of
seeking courses that are connected, students spend most of their time satisfying designator
requirements.

The huge list that makes up the core curriculum has been tinkered with throughout the years, but
no fundamental changes have been made.

“We’re looking at a system that’s 20 years old and that hasn’t been revamped,” said Gates.

To accomplish a break away from this old system the General Education Task Force is focusing
on two specific areas: Making classes connected so students become immersed in their education
and providing a sense of academic community.

The General Education Task Force has no firm plan to implement these goals, but is looking at
alternative models on the Appalachian campus. One of the models is Watauga College, an
interdisciplinary studies program available to students as an alternative to the standard core
curriculum.
The philosophy at Watauga College is to have courses linked by goals and objectives, not
specific content—which is the current model at Appalachian.

Freshmen in the Watauga College program take a class called “Origins and Migrations.” The
course traces the origins, influences, mixtures and migrations of a number of topics that range
from geometry to the civil rights movement to jazz.

Students are exposed to western and non-western culture, explore history and geography, get
oriented to Watauga College and are expected to write a substantial research paper. The course
earns Freshmen ENG 1000 and HIS 1101 credit.

Also unique to Watauga College is the idea of team-taught classes. Courses such as “Origins and
Migrations” use more than one teacher so that each constructor can bring their own perspectives
and expertise to the class. The teachers do not teach two different classes to the same students,
but collaborate to give students a fuller academic experience.

All Watauga College students live at the Living and Learning Center, which allows for a sense of
community among the students. The sense of community does not stop there. Watauga College
students participate in “Common Time” three times a week.

The students, faculty and staff meet together to participate in shared activities such as student
performances, guest lectures, films and field trips.

The General Education Task Force is interested in not only local models like Watauga College,
but also national general education models at peer institutions across the nation.

James Madison University is one model the General Education Task Force has investigated. The
general education program at James Madison is known as “The Human Community.” All
students, regardless of their major, enroll in the program.

The program is broken into five clusters focusing on five distinct areas: skills for the 21st century,
arts and the humanities, the natural world, social and cultural processes and individuals in the
human community.

All freshmen at James Madison are also required to take two exams: Tech Level One and an
Information Seeking Skills Test. The Tech Level One exam assesses student’s technology skills,
such as using a computer effectively. The Information Seeking Skills Test assesses how well
students can locate information, evaluate the quality of information and apply appropriate ethical
guidelines to using information.

The two exams ensure the students have a common and important set of skills that will be
valuable throughout the rest of their time at James Madison and also after college.

While Watauga College and James Madison University have provided the General Education
Task Force with possible ideas for changing the core curriculum at Appalachian, Dr. Gates said
the most important input and ideas should come from Appalachian Students.
“We’re not doing this in a vacuum,” said Gates. “We’re trying to get a community-wide
discussion going.”

Appalachian students can participate in the discussion by posting at the General Education Task
Force’s blog: The Force. There will also be three small discussion groups open to students at the
Hubbard Center, 1028 Old Belk Library. The times are:

Friday, February 3, 10-11:30 a.m.


Thursday, February 23, 3:30-5 p.m.
Friday, March 3, 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.